What Women Eat When They Think No One's Looking
Perusing bottles of vitamins in the kitchen cupboard of radio talk show host Yolanda Gaskins, Treitler realizes that carbon-dating might be needed (the prize goes to a supplement that includes ox bile with a 1995 expiration date).The refrigerator is more current but no less scary. Seduced by low prices, Gaskins buys supersize everything at Costco, much of which goes unused until unusable. Opening the freezer, Treitler finds a virtual henhouse of chicken wings, prepared precisely six to a package and marinated in a preservative-laden dressing, along with Brobdingnagian bags of mixed vegetables and enough oatmeal cookies to supply a Girl Scout troop (sometimes eaten frozen, Gaskins admits). "For a single woman who doesn't entertain," observes Treitler, "she has tons of food—but it's practically all nutrient diminished."
What's even more noticeably missing is a place to eat. Although Gaskins's apartment is furnished with obvious care, the dining room has become a walk-in closet. Sitting down to dinner was not a habit ingrained in childhood, Gaskins says. She and three younger siblings often made do with frozen potpies or fast food. ("I think we ate the first million sold under the golden arches," she jokes.)
As an adult, she still doesn't sit down much. Only a year out of Georgetown Law school, Gaskins found legal work so lacking in soul satisfaction that she picked up a phone and "just started calling people" to jump-start her childhood dream of a broadcasting career. A natural in front of the camera and at the microphone, she has been career-propelled cross-country, from a stint with CNN in Atlanta to her own radio shows in Los Angeles, Dallas, and now back in her hometown of Washington, D.C., where she's sent nationwide via satellite.
In her late 40s, Gaskins sometimes starts the day healthfully with a soy-based smoothie whirled in her blender and a workout, but often she's too exhausted for the gym. When she goes off-air at midnight, adrenaline keeps her awake—she might get only a couple hours of sleep before dragging herself out of bed at 7 A.M. and onto the computer looking for news and information that she'll use on her show.
When Treitler presses her to name some comforting foods, Gaskins mentions meals that would be emotionally and physically nourishing—like roasted sea bass, rice, and fresh spinach—but she rarely feeds herself in such a way, turning more often to bread or pasta. She tends to overindulge at a restaurant buffet or party, eating the cheesecake because "it's included"—a common food rationale that often progresses to "Since I was bad, I might as well...." Gaskins is also a classic stress eater, operating on the unconscious calculation: stress + reward = pastry. Over the last few years, while renovating several houses bought as investments, trying to reconnect with family members who've been distant, and developing a media-training company, she's gained 30-plus pounds. And poking around in the closets, Treitler discovers that Gaskins isn't holding back on buying clothes for her new weight, including more coats than you'd find at the Burlington Coat Factory.
Since her days as vice president of her college class and cheerleading captain, Gaskins has been an overachiever who made it entirely on her own. "Her one attempt at finding a mentor was a miserable and dangerous failure with someone who tried to exploit her," Treitler concludes after one conversation. And with her constant moving, Gaskins has not developed a good support system—she hasn't even seen a doctor in two years. But she's always "on," connected to her cell phone by a wireless earpiece that she wears as if it were an essential hearing aid. Treitler is intrigued by the framed photos of a thinner Gaskins interviewing Denzel Washington and Mario Cuomo. "But she has not internalized her achievement and repeatedly sells herself short," says Treitler. "Continuity with her social networks is by cell phone, so she's not exploiting her strong suits: charisma and persona. She has a lot of plans and goals, but everything is in the future—'I should do more,' 'I wish I could....'" Even the inside of her SUV manifests works in progress and a life in transition—a three-foot-high promotional poster of herself and a huge mother of a pole from Home Depot that's the basis of some improvement project must be moved to receive passengers. "I hardly ever say, 'I've worked enough today—I can go do something else to have a well-rounded life,'" Gaskins admits. "I hardly ever say, 'It's good enough.' My 100 percent is somebody else's 200 percent. My goals are almost always just beyond reach. And finding that quiet space where I feel I've done enough is foreign to me."
Next: Treitler's advice for Yolanda